Results tagged ‘ Desmond Jennings ’

Upton Needs to “Get Back on the Horse” Soon


I am beginning to worry a bit about Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton. Not because he is missing vital Spring time in the field, but because sometimes letting a fear fester can be his own worst enemy. The reasoning for this worry stems from a recent collision between Upton and Rays LF Desmond Jennings that left both with soreness, stiffness and bouts of pain.

The worst injury unfortunately is the one we can not see with our eyes, or predict with any clarity. The mind is notorious for making the imagery of the event and the aftermath blur and sometimes amplify to the point where the athlete doesn’t venture into that same situation again with abandon, but with caution and fear for a return engagement with the grass and a visit from the Rays training staff.

This is the fear I have right now that Upton’s confidence is damaged. Not beyond repair, but he needs to get into game action soon, face the demon of another “dying quail between himself and the Rays infield, or a long drive high in the gap that he can run under, or take command of with confidence. Right now Upton could have the same hesitation that an NFL receiver feels initially after a jarring hit over the middle, or when he is somersaulting through the air after being up-ended.

Hearing footsteps, taking an extra degree of caution while running towards a ball can be detrimental to the style and devil-may-care attitude Upton has shown as he has risen up the ranks to become a top-tier defensive outfielder. Taking a second off his response time, a hesitation in his start towards a ball in flight or fearing another collision with a teammate could derail all the good deeds he has done in the Rays outfield since 2007.

The cure for this illness is simple. Upton needs to get back onto the field as soon as possible, have a high fly ball hit into the gap or in front of him and he needs to make the play like he did 1,000’s of times before his recent collision. The problem is right now, he is not on the field. Taking that first step onto the field during a contest is the first vital step in his recovery.

Sure some will say he needs to heal his physical wounds before he can stave off his mental issues, but that is malarkey. Getting back on his proverbial horse, seeing the ball again as just a white sphere and not something that almost took his livelihood away is paramount. Miscalculations happen every day in sports either by players in the field or on the mound, and they bounce back with better clarity and understanding of what to do “next time” a similar situation rears its ugly head.

A good word of advice is possibly Upton becoming more vocal, being the QB in the outfield and calling off infielders or his corner outfielders when he feels he has a legitimate shot at a ball. I still remember seeing a collision between Jose Cruz Jr and Damon Rolls in shallow Right field near the foul line in 2004 that shook both players to their internal cores. Both players ended up battling their own separate demons after that event, but both also tried to get back on the field ASAP to start the mental healing process.

For many MLB seasons Upton has thrown his body around the turf in the Trop. or on the road without a care or worry or fear of mortal consequences. It is a unteachable quality to give 110% on a play most would deem a loss even before an attempt, then gripping the ball in the glove and hearing the cheers all around you. Upton needs to get back on the field and make such a play and return to that cocky level of play that endears him to us.

Banging into walls, diving face-first with his glove and arm extended is part of the work that Upton has signed up for as a MLB outfielder, and he is very good at it. But right now with him on the sidelines, letting his mind play the event over and over again, it is a dangerous time for Upton.

The sooner Upton can again take stride towards the field, take total command again of his position and hope for a redemption screaming line drive hit either to his left or right. Until that moment, Upton will rethink the event in his head, replaying it, trying to dissect it like a Science experiment instead of accepting it is part of the game. Mental toughness is as important to his game persona as his sweet swing. Letting him simmer in the dugout possibly doing a replay over and over in his mind is not good for him or the team.

I have a gut feeling the first fly ball into the gaps or in front of Upton is key to his return to the field. No matter if it is BP or game time, that first blast towards him will cause a reaction, my guess it will trigger the old “Upton” to get on his high horse and pull that stray ball into his glove like he has 1,000’s of times before. But he must first step on the field for the real on-the-job healing to begin.

 

 

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

The Tampa Bay Rays have sent out the vibe that they are basically done “shopping” and will just add a few stray parts to their Spring Invite list thus possibly closing the door to any movements before the team’s current player report to Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. I’m not buying this for nano second.

Maybe it is a gut feeling or possibly a bit too much Chipotle Tabasco sauce, but this team is never done trading up or passing up a deal that could eliminate payroll or provide a bit more stability to security within their roster. And with the Rays having to add a $1.25 million dollar cherry on top of their recent Carlos Pena sundae, this team will be more than n eager to take a call from a certain GM in the Nation’s Capitol, possibly bringing a two-fold relief effort.

Of course I’m talking about Mike Rizzo, the General Manager of the Washington Nationals who has been poking and prodding B J Upton like a prized Angus beef cow for the last few years. Now that the Rays are possibly nearing the bursting point in their budget bubble, the right deal with the Nats for the right player (s) could happen quickly and also relieve some of that payroll pressure instantly giving the team actually a bit of payola if they want to bring in a right-handed bench bat with some of the pressure relieving cash.

Of course I’m talking about the Rays possibly finally sending B J Upton to the Nationals which would relieve $ 7.6 million off the Rays payroll in one swift move, adding the Nats would be bold enough to send SS Danny Espinosa to the Rays as the “other part of the bargain”. Believe me, Espinosa can hit and field and is making the MLB minimum and has not even breached the arbitration process.

With one firm “Yuuuup”, the Rays could plug their question mark at shortstop, bring some cash back into the fold to entice a right-handed bat and still tuck enough away for a possible late July movement if the Rays need additional firepower. It would also eliminate the ticking clock above Upton’s head immediately, give him a clean break to go basically “back home”, closer to his Northern Virgina roots and play in front of friends and family on a more opportunistic basis. Last but not least, it will make the Rays CF transition happen in a timely manner, giving heir apparent Desmond Jennings possibly the reigns to the spot.

It could facilitate a move by Matt Joyce to Leftfield or keep the status quo in Rightfield with Ben Zobrist and Joyce flip-flopping depending on the opposing pitching match ups like in 2011. The movement of Upton to another greener pasture could also give a golden opportunity to both Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to grab a hold of a Outfield flux and prove their worth to Maddon and his staff this Spring, possibly getting them to more time on the field. On the surface it looks like a win-win for everyone.

Even more interesting is the fact if the Rays did trade for Espinosa, it would bring into effect another “6 degrees of Longo connection” onto the Rays roster. You see, Espinosa like current Rays RP pitcher Cesar Ramos is also a ex-alum of Long Beach State University. Add that to the fact Espinosa can stroke the ball for power ( 21 HR, .735 OPS) and has speed (17 SB, 33 doubles), he could be a nice asset to offset the current short stop power deficiency.

Add plus to it all is that Espinosa will not reach the salary arbitration process until 2014, possibly being the stopgap defender up the middle the Rays could bank on until Huk-Ju Lee gets his feet wet at the MLB level. Espinosa also would have great trade value at the Trade Deadline this season if Reid Brignac rebounds and get off to a torrid start, or finally takes ownership of the Rays SS position.

It all looks enticing, but as we all know, the Rays do not ask my opinion on salary or team concept only if I want a large or medium Dr. Pepper at the concession stand. Still, I like this deal more for the possible immediate values and trade kickbacks this could have towards the Rays putting a team on the field that could suffice those nasty 2011 offensive sand traps.

I know this whole enchilada trade concept is more fantasy than reality, but the Rays have done thing before on the spur of the moment and they have paid some gritty dividends. I know possibly sending a veteran player and a guy who can be an offensive spark plug and defensive bright spot is a gamble, but it is one I would love to see more for the fact I would love to get a quality player in-house before the end of 2012 and possibly see Upton take a long walk and the Rays standing there empty-handed.

If this whole thing is just a dream sequence, please do not wake me until February 18th, I want to believe in its fruition for just a little bit longer.

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



10 Years Later, “Heart and Hustle, Redux”

2011 is the 10th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Rays up tempo slogan “Heart and Hustle” that signified and branded a Rays squad consisting of a hodge podge of vets and rookies who meshed together to play a energized style of Rays baseball. Sounds kind of familiar?

That same highly energized and enthusiastic slogan could easily be stamped upon this 2011 Rays squad. Truly it is the essence of this team’s “ fire in the belly “heart and “never say die” hustle that has lead this ball club from the April darkness of the American League East cellar to them gaining momentum, slowly escalating onward and upward towards a 6-game shootout with the slumping Boston Red Sox and surging Los Angeles Angels for the potential AL Wild Card post season prize.

Even 10 years later, heart and hustle still seem to be firmly within the foundation and backbone of the Rays team culture. From the extreme performance last night from their youngest player on their roster RP/SP Matt Moore to a their oldest “young at heart” performer OF/DH Johnny Damon who only has to look at his ring fingers to visually show he can help lead this young maturing band of baseball brothers to that last glorious plateau in late October.

 I mean how can you root against a team where Damon, who was born in 1973 is still grinding out extra base hits and stealing bases like rookie sensation Desmond Jennings. Just because Damon is adding nightly to his future Hall of Fame resume, the pure magic he sees within this team is not lost on him that the Rays have the drive and confidence to take this thing to its final destination, then party like rock stars.

Even the Rays usual whipping boy B J Upton has pushed his numbers high and higher as the number of games diminish, possibly knowing within his mind this might be his last chance at post season glory with this Rays club before the Winter could dish out a harsh reality to him and the Rays Republic. Right now Upton is playing like a man possessed, or who knows the window of opportunity is beginning to be shut.

Do not get me started on this Rays rotation where from top to bottom we have seen 10+ wins by each starter, and had glimpses of magic from often maligned SP Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. We have seen Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson get a secondary nickname just for 2011, “HellROY” as he burns towards the finish line.

Even the Rays rookies are set to make a little history of their own as Jennings needs only 2 stolen bases over the next 6 games to become the first AL rookie with 10 HR and 20 SB since the Rays own Rocco Baldelli and Kansas City’s Angel Berroa set the mark in 2003. Hellickson has a .290 ERA and a .208 opponent average, the fifth best rookie performance…ever.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mantra of “pitching sets the tone” has definitely sparked some beautiful music from his hurlers as the Rays collectively have held the American League to a .236 average. The last AL team to post such numbers was the 2001 Mariners who had the same .236 average. Oh, and by the way, that Mariners club made the playoffs. Rays starters have gone 7+ innings 77 times, 21 times more than the second closest squad, their AL East rivals the New York Yankees.

Amazing enough, this Rays pitching staff has thrown 1,024.1 innings (most in AL) and leads the AL with a 3.51 ERA, 15 complete games and has allowed an AL-low 593 runs. All this by a staff that has seen all 156 prior 2011 Rays game started by pitchers drafted and developed by the Rays, the only team in the majors this season who can boast that claim. Plus, they are riding a 758 consecutive streak of starters under the age of 30…an MLB record.

Along with their upward trend in pitching, the Rays have solidified their overall defense to the tone that the Rays have committed the least errors in the Majors (69), and their combined .988 Fielding Percentage is tied with NL powerhouse Philadelphia for the top slot in the MLB. Talk about “hustle”, this Rays team has committed only 4 errors in their last 17 games, and only 17 in their past 53 contests.

If ever there was a Rays team that demonstrated that mantra of “Heart and Hustle”, it is this 2011 squad. This Rays squad was 9 games out of playoff contention on September 2, 2011. No other team in MLB history has overcome that many games in September to get into the post season. The closest comparison would be the St. Louis Cardinals (who trained in St. Petersburg, Fl) who were in 3rd place and trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 8.5 games on September 3, 1964.

History is definitely on the Rays side right now as the Rays have already secured their 4th straight 10 win seasonal series against tonight’s foe, the Toronto Blue Jays, the most against any Rays opponent. The Rays are also a combined 25-8 against the pesky bird in Tropicana Field over that same time period. Also working into the Rays favor is their lifetime 6-4 record against the Yankees in the last series of the season, including a dismal 1-2 mark in 1999.

Since 2001, the Rays have beaten New York by a 5-2 mark during the last series of the season at Tropicana Field. This 2011 squad has a chance to possibly duplicate some more late season angst upon the 2011 AL East Champion Yankee just as they did back in 2001 when the Yankees won the AL East and the Rays beat them 3 out of 4 games heading into the post season

The Rays past “Heart and Hustle” campaign centered on their rising stars and a few veterans getting their last swings at glory. Maybe we should collectively called this Rays prospect of the Rays 2011 Renaissance and possibly Rays history repeating itself, “Heart and Hustle Redux”. I think it fits perfectly like a glove.

Jennings Serves Up Tater Dessert for 1,000 Rays Victory

From the moment the ball met the bat, you knew it sounded different. The magnitude of the event was not lost on the 11,190 Rays fans as Tropicana Field possibly erupted into a bellow of sound that rivaled a jet engine. Rays rookie Desmond Jennings not only gave the Rays a win with his 10th inning walk-off homer, he firmly planted that baby into the record books with authority.

It was the way Hollywood would have scripted this event. Futility in the 9th inning by a reliable closer, then one of the Rays youngest members thrusting his will and power to ultimately decide the game. A milestone moment like a 1,000th franchise career “W” had to have a plethora of dramatic effect. This moment seem to call for a climatic thunderous sound of wood meeting rawhide. Simply put, this moment needed that certain exclamation point.

Simply posting an easy victory with no dramatic effect has not been the Rays way this season at home. The Trop used to be a budding loss factory for any visiting teams used to venture into its hallowed hallways, defeats accumulated often in this dome of doom. In 2011, the cowbells and the Rays offense fell mute and useless as this team struggled to find another way to even win.

Today’s blast in the bottom of the 10th inning made a visual farewell to the pesky Rangers and hello to history. This walk-off was the 11th of it’s kind in 2011, equaling the previous Rays seasonal walk-off totals achieved in both the 2000 and 2008 seasons, and we still have 9 home contests left.

But this is becoming a bit of a routine thing for this young Rays squad that has now produced 6 walk-off victories in their last 20 home games. But this one was special. 1,000 of anything is a classic achievement and the way Jennings put his power on show to secure this once fledging franchise’s 1,000th win definitely merited not only a historic benchmark, but a purely “Hollywood” moment.

Spontaneous and climatic team meetings around Home Plate have become more of a norm lately during Rays home games, but this unrehearsed moment in time will be remembered by more than just those assembled within the Trop. During this “getaway” game karma moment.

Rays Republic members who might have begun to doubt this team, who might have lost a bit of the enthusiastic zeal this September will revel in the persistence of this young club to not lay down, not give up, not want to send the home crowd home with their heads down.

And during all of the Rays on field commotion, out in the Rightfield stands, a great display of good sportsmanship was evolving as the Rays players and fans celebrated. The Ranger fan who caught Jennings Home Run ball wanted to give it back to him and the team because of the importance of the 1,000 franchise win. I hope the fan got a chance to come to the Rays Clubhouse and give the ball either to Jennings or Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

On a day when Rays starter David Price joined teammate James Shields in the 200-strikeout club you knew something special was waiting in the wings. The moment was almost for naught as usually reliable Kyle Farnsworth served up a Home Run ball to Ian Kinsler in the top of the 9th inning to send this game into an extra frame.

Climatic as that blown save was, it was nothing compared to the first pitch seen by Jennings that ended up nestled in the palm of that Rangers fan. Some moments define a player, a team, a franchise. This 2011 Rays squad has been all about the meats and potatoes of the game all season long. Figured their 1,00th would not only be a walk-off, it would be a classic “meatloaf” victory served up with Jennings smashed taters…and a towel of Vanilla pudding especially for Jennings.  Yummmmm, makes me hungry just thinking about it.

 

 

Here are a few photos of the Rays keepsake given out to fans as they exited Tropicana Field to celebrate this tremendous milestone in Rays franchise history:

There’s a New Historic # 8 in Tampa Bay

Picking the number 8 Tampa Bay Rays jersey can lead to people throwing high expectations, even lofty comparisons upon your shoulder in a heart beat. For that was the same Rays uniform number that fellow speed demon Carl Crawford took for himself when he embarked on his own rookie campaign with the team.

So far in this 36 game spread, I am beginning to forget that other #8 as this one is doing some amazing things to make even the Rays biggest skeptics give a little sheepish grin. Seems like the stars and universe have come and cosmically aligned for Jennings as he was brought up on July 23rd by the Rays almost mirror-imaging Crawford’s own July 20, 2002 call-up.

Immediately Jennings got to do something Crawford could never do as a Ray, solidify the lead-off spot and make it productive. Since his arrival in Tampa Bay, Jennings has produced at such a terrifying rate that he ranks second on the Rays (after MLB leader/teammate Evan Longoria) in round trippers since the All-Star break with 8. Hmm, there is that mystic number again.

But Jennings haven’t let the stat-heads within the Rays Republic rest as he has a few impressive stats of his own since his July 23rd 2011 debut . Jennings currently leads the majors in stolen bases (14) has 42 hits (19 for extra bases) maintaining ans insane .354 batting average along with a skyrocketing .646 Slugging percentage. Suddenly that old # 8 is beginning to fade from my memory.

Need another reason to erase a bit of Crawford from your Rays rookie mindset, in 2002, Crawford appeared in 63 of the Rays final 67 games that season. He sported a .259 Batting Average with 2 Home Runs, 30 RBI’s and 9 stolen bases. Jennings has already eclisped all of the RBI total already from a fresh and invigorated Crawford’s rookie totals.

Wild part is, this kid is just getting started. Someone with a whole lot of time on their hands today (@RaysRepublic) even decided to try and figure out the seasonal numbers of both Crawford and Jennings if each played a 162 game season. Remarkably Jennings would trump even the 2011 edition of Crawford with an estimated 38 Home Runs and 67 Stolen Bases. Crawford would have posted 14 HR and 26 SB.

You do not want to anoint Jennings as the “ second coming” of anyone, much less Crawford. But since Jennings arrival in Tampa Bay his elevator has been sprinting towards the penthouse instead of the 8th floor. I kind of hoped this kind of drama would play out where the C C comparisons would be leveled by those skeptics and believers that players like Crawford come once in a lifetime.

Jennings has done his job so far in making a lot of us in the Rays Republic look past the afterglow of the “C C Era” and dream heavenly thoughts of the future “D J’s Adventure”. Both men left their game totally on the field every night trying to produce, excite and provide something new, thought provoking and jaw dropping.

So far Jennings has surpassed so much of C C’s legendary rookie escapades, and we still have over a month left of the Rays 2011 season. The Rays finally found that 2011 piece of the puzzle they have been searching for and have begun to their wagon to this budding young star on his meteoric rise.

I truly can’t wait for Monday night’s Toronto Blue Jays game to see what Desmond has in store for us….I bet it will make a little more of Crawford’s past fade into the darkness. There’s a new #8 in town, and his name is Desmond Jennings. 

As Upton Crumbles, Opinions Rumble as to his Loss

He is one of those player who has been the hero and the scapegoat, sometimes within the same game. No matter what your opinion of Tampa Bay Rays Centerfielder B J Upton, this injury hurts to the core of the Rays Republic.

Upton has been a Rays barometer over his last few seasons. As B J climbs, so has his Rays team. As B J matured and evolved in his MLB skin both in the field and at the plate, his Rays young teammates have also grown to become a competitive force and have firmly rallied around the one Rays player people love to point fingers towards.

Be it a mental lapse on the base paths, or a argument with the Home Plate Umpire, Upton has always always landed straight into the cross-hairs of critics and haters. Some consider it arrogance, most know it is a high degree of competitiveness that Upton only sweats between the lines.

No matter what is being vocalized, even shouted from the stands, Upton has done his thing, moved at his own pace and provided moments we will never forget. Every team has a guy fans and observers like to focus upon as a linchpin of how a team will perform, of who is critical to a win or loss, possibly rattling them would secure a victory. Upton has been the guy teams have tried to take apart, sometimes succeeding with vengeance.

Upton seemed to be in the perfect position to take in the apparent double hit deeply into the CF/RF corner by former Ray/Twin, newly minted Tiger OF Delmon Young, then suddenly a padded wall had a different agenda. The way Upton glided over from his Centerfield spot last night, I had the impulse to want to scream, warn him the orange tinted warning track coming up faster than he realized, but like viewing a play via a slow-motion camera, quickly I saw Upton realize too late his speed versus wall was a recipe for disaster.

The sound might not have been deafening, but within a second, you could of heard a pin drop around Tropicana Field. Upton laid like a rag doll on the AstroTurf surface, immediately Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield sprinted to his side with Rightfielder Matt Joyce trying to comfort Upton. As Porterfield attended to Upton I heard a wild range of comments in the stands.


 Some were glad for the injury so future Rays outfielders like Sam Fuld and Desmond Jennings will get a chance to strut their stuff in Centerfield. Others worried that a Ray who has been so instrumental in this odd season competitive rebirth might be sidelined until September, effectively hurting the Rays machine. Polarizing opposite statements and opinions rained down in the stands like the showers upon the Trop’s Teflon.

No matter if you love, like or even despise Upton, this injury is going to hurt deeply. Upton has transformed himself out of the view of the fans in the Rays Clubhouse as a true leader, has done some foolish things to promote energy and confidence and has been met by spite and misguided comments. Upton has been the one constant in an ever changing Rays format for a long time.

Knowing the caution Maddon takes with his players in the later stages of the season, Upton may sit a few days, possibly even a week to make sure the shoulder that has been held high and helped carry this Rays team is healed and 100 percent. Sure Fuld and Jennings will get multiple chances to place their names in the Centerfield mix for Spring 2012, but as long as Upton is a Ray, it is his territory.

The injury might actually pay dividends for the Rays not in Upton’s absence, but to give the Rays Centerfielder a chance to relax, refocus and re-energize going down the stretch. Upton held a horrific .181 batting average at home coming into last night’s game. His injury might give him ample time to heal more than just his shoulder. Upton will be a key ingredient if the Rays are to again stir the pot and get a chance to play into October. A healthy Upton both physically and mentally could be just the trick to again being bathe in champagne.

You either love him, or hate him, but you got to respect that Upton doesn’t disrespect the game or its nuances. Some find him cocky arrogant, even to the point of nausea, but want him on the base paths or in Centerfield if the game is on the line.

Hopefully before Upton leaves, possibly through free agency after the 2012 season, everyone in the Rays Republic will see just how much sweat, blood and emotion this guy has spilled on the Trop’s turf. As Upton laid on the turf last night I thought instantly of what this team loses by his absence, I know others around me were thinking just the opposite. Guess that is B J ‘s Rays legacy in a nutshell.

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.


Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

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